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Gruevski is only the latest in the long line of VMRO leaders forced to operate from exile


While initially shocking, the decision by Nikola Gruevski to leave Macedonia into self-appointed exile and continue his activism from abroad is a very common, often adopted tactic by VMRO leaders of the past. Old alliances with the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Germany Italy and Bulgaria show in the destinations chosen by past VMRO leaders when they would face threats and persecution at home and would have to leave their homeland. Their most frequent enemies were initially the Ottoman rulers, and later the Serbian and Greek governments, at times joined by Bulgaria, and lately by the Yugoslav Communist authorities who opposed the creation of independent Macedonia. Facing imminent danger, injury or merely fatigue, Macedonian leaders would often take to Sofia, and beyond throughout Central Europe. Some from the left wing of the Organization would even take to the Soviet Union.

Legendary voyvoda (commander) Vasil Cakalarov, who led the VMRO forces in Kostur, often stayed in Sofia for lenghty periods of time. He married there in 1901 and saw the birth of his daughter, before returning to the fight for Aegean Macedonia.


Petar Caulev, the voyvoda of Ohrid and member of the VMRO Central Committee, had Milan as his destination of choice whenever he had to avoid attacks on his person. For a while, after the failure of the 1913 uprising in Ohrid and Debar, he went in hiding in Albania.


Hristo Tatarcev, one of the original founders and leaders of VMRO, used Sofia and Turin for refuge, after he and a number of other VMRO leaders received amnesty from the Ottomans and were released from the prison in Bodrum.
Nikola Karev and Dame Gruev were forced into hiding in Bulgaria after the collapse of the 1903 Ilinden Uprising. Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire reached agreement on an amnesty for the rebels in 1904, that was supposed to cover the two leaders, but the Ottomans later went back on the promise. Both Karev and Gruev were killed by their agents after their return to Macedonia. Karev’s brothers were further hounded by the Communist authorities of Macedonia/Yugoslavia. Georgi and Petar Karev were detained in 1946, and kept in the Idrizovo prison near Skopje until their deaths in 1950 and 1951. Then Communist leader Lazar Kolisevski even got Nikola Karev erased from the original lyrics of the Macedonian national anthem.


Todor Panica, the Bulgarian member of the Sandanski group in VMRO, executed Boris Sarafov and Ivan Garvanov in Sofia in 1907. He moved between Bulgaria and later Yugoslavia, and eventually sought refuge in Vienna in 1922 to avoid the VMRO right wing. He was famously killed in 1925 at the Burgtheater in Vienna.

Sarafov, on the other hand, would often operate from Vienna, Budapest, Geneva, Paris, Belgrad and various Russian cities.

Leading VMRO organizer Todor Aleksandrov would also use Bulgaria for his refuge, but was at times not welcome there. He worked to re-organize VMRO after the chaos caused by the First World War from Sofia, to avoid Serbian and Greek indictments.



Vanco Mihajlov, one of the most controversial VMRO leaders, who like Aleksandrov is from Stip, practically led the Organization from Sofia, but he had to leave Bulgaria following the 1934 assassination of Serbian King Aleksandar in Marseilles. He was given political asylum by Turkey whose post-Ottoman authorities were often receptive for their former VMRO opponents. Later Mihajlov left for Poland in 1938 and then for a while used Budapest as his base of operations. Croatia welcomed him during World War Two, but after it was reabsorbed by Yugoslavia, he decided to live out his life in Italy, where he died in 1990.


World War Two also forced many other Macedonian leaders, from the left and the right wing, like Pavel Satev, Dimitar Vlahov, Hristo Matov and Dimo Hadzi Dimov, to flee the country. A notable case is that of Dragan Bogdanovski, who renewed VMRO into the political party it now is. He had to live most of his life as an emigre after his arrest as a student in Belgrad in 1948, when he was marked as opponent of the Yugoslav regime. He went all the way to Brazil and Argentina, before relocating to Paris and Oslo, where he led the DOOM group. Bogdanovski was kidnapped in Paris by the Yugoslav communist secret service UDBA, and secretly driven across Europe back to Yugoslavia, to face trial. Declared an enemy of the state for his work to have Macedonia secede from Yugoslavia, and unite all Macedonians in a democratic, Western aligned country, Bogdanovski was sentenced to 13 years in prison, of which he served full 11 years in Skopje. Following his release under international pressure, he was given permission to leave for Germany and later Sweden to recuperate his health.


One of his top organizers, Blagoja Sambevski, was sentenced to 15 years in prison after World War Two for supporting VMRO. Released from prison in 1962, Sambevski emigrated to Germany, where he continued to work with DOOM and on the publication of the Macedonian Nation magazine. In 1974 Sambevski was killed in the Munich hotel where he worked, which is widely believed to have been the work of UDBA

Following Macedonia’s independence, VMRO leader and Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski opted to receive a Bulgarian citizenship in 2002, faced with the arrests of many of his supporters by the SDSM led Government and judiciary.

Nikola Gruevski is only the latest VMRO leader who was faced with political persecution. Gruevski was hounded for three years by prosecutors who were visibly politically driven, and pressured to approve decisions which he says would undermine Macedonia’s national interests. Faced with this choice, he opted to seek refuge in Budapest rather than betray his principles.

The list of countries where VMRO leaders sought refuge are largely result of the approach European countries took toward Balkan countries who most opposed Macedonia’s independence. Britain, France and to a large extent Russia as well mostly supported Serbia and Greece, whose designs on Macedonia brought them to a collision course with VMRO. In this environment, VMRO leaders would take to Bulgaria, or seek support from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Germany and Italy, who would provide funds, weapons and diplomatic support. Todor Aleksandrov famously approached both warring parties in the First World War, asking them to provide guarantees that they will support an independent and unified Macedonia after the war. This project would’ve meant cutting Greece and Serbia down to size, and was therefore unacceptable to the Entente powers of Britain, France and Russia. The Central powers were much more receptive to the proposal, and Aleksandrov used his influence in Bulgaria to push it to join them in the Great War, hoping to see a dual state made of unified Macedonia and Bulgaria after the war.